Need to Know: Scotland v USA match preview

KO 2.30 at Elland Road, Sunday 27th September
Live on ITV

After starting out with a solid victory, Scotland’s RWC campaign moves ‘Oop North’ to Leeds for an encounter with our American cousins.

Teams

15 Stuart Hogg
14 Sean Maitland
13 Mark Bennett
12 Peter Horne
11 Tim Visser
10 Finn Russell
9 Henry Pyrgos (c)
1 Ryan Grant
2 Fraser Brown
3 Jon Welsh
4 Grant Gilchrist
5 Richie Gray
6 Alasdair Stokosch
7 John Hardie
8 Josh Strauss
15 Chris Wyles (c)
14 Takudzwa Ngwenya
13 Seamus Kelly
12 Thretton Palamo
11 Blaine Scully
10 AJ MacGinty
9 Mike Petri
1 Eric Fry
2 Phil Thiel
3 Titi Lamositele
4 Hayden Smith
5 Greg Peterson
6 Al McFarland
7 Andrew Durutalo
8 Samu Manoa

16 Ross Ford
17 Alasdair Dickinson
18 WP Nel
19 Tim Swinson
20 Ryan Wilson
21 Greig Laidlaw
22 Duncan Weir
23 Matt Scott

16 Zach Fenoglio
17 Oli Kilifi
18 Chris Baumann
19 Cam Dolan
20 John Quill
21 Danny Barrett
22 Shalom Suniula
23 Folau Niua

Team Talk
Only 8 players are promoted from bench duty against Japan and are joined by in the starting line-up by Tim Visser and Al Strokosch. Duncan Weir and Tim Swinson are the new faces on the bench as the number of Scottish RWC debutants in this tournament looks set to rise to 22 by close of play on Sunday. Only one change in the starting line-up for USA as some very untidy darts in their tournament opener sees Zach Fenoglio drop to the bench to be replaced by Phil Thiel. Back row John Quill is the only new face in the 23 as the States move to a 6 forwards / 2 backs split on the bench – the second team in the tournament to do so against Scotland which suggests either they feel they have to counter the strength and fitness of the Scottish pack or they believe there may be an opportunity to target tired players through the middle late on.

Numbers you need to know
272
Total caps for the Scotland starting line-up – 160 less than the team XV that opened up against Japan.

26.7
Average age of the Scotland squad – the 4th youngest among Tier 1 nations. The average age of the squad is almost identical to the 200 RWC – a group who went on to provide the bulk of the travelling party four years later and this year’s crop could well be the foundation of Scotland’s tilt at the tournament at Japan 2019.

6
Players with previous RWC experience – the fewest returning players ever for the national side. This will be the third tournament for Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and Sean Lamont and the second for Alasdair Strokosch, Richie Gray and Richie Vernon.

24
Players from Scottish clubs (17 from Glasgow and 7 from Edinburgh); 4 are attached to English sides (1 each from Gloucester, Harlequins, Newcastle and London Irish); 2 are based in France (Castres and Perpignan); and 1 is unattached. In fact 3 of the players attached to English clubs played their rugby in Scotland during 2014/15 so there are only 4 genuine exiles in the squad.

630
Number of minutes since a Scottish forward scored a RWC try until John Hardie broke that streak against Japan. The last prior to that was the final score in Ally Hogg’s hat-trick against Romania in 2007. The drought was only marginally shorter than that suffered by Glasgow Warriors players who hadn’t scored a RWC try in Scotland’s previous 8 games (since Kelly Brown and Dan Parks scored against Portugal) before Mark Bennett flew over on Wednesday, closely followed by clubmates Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg.

3
RWC matches won by USA (in 22 attempts). Their wins came against Japan (twice – 1987 & 2003) and Russia (2011)

25
RWC pool matches played by Scotland. 18 have ended in victory for a win percentage of 72%.

1017
Number of points scored by Scotland in RWC tournament history. Greig Laidlaw’s conversion of Mark Bennett’s first try on Wednesday included the national side’s 1,000th point.

50
John Hardie became the 50th player to score a RWC try for Scotland. The very first player to score a RWC try for the national team was Derek White way back in 1987 against France.

13
Henry Pyrgos will be the 13th player to captain Scotland at a RWC and the 5th scrum half to take the role after Gary Armstrong, Bryan Redpath, Rory Lawson and Greig Laidlaw.

Previous results
The sides have met 4 times with Scotland victorious on each occasion, although with a declining margin of victory on each occasion…
There has been one previous encounter at a World Cup:

  • 2003 Scotland 39-15 USA (Brisbane)

Most recent meeting:

  • USA 6-24 Scotland (Houston)

Essential match-ups

Back 3

The Scottish back 3 found themselves on the periphery for much of the game due to Japan’s willingness to hold onto the ball and starve the opposition of possession – they only kicked he ball 10 times all game. By contrast the Americans kicked the ball away 30 times and it is here players like Hogg and Maitland will look to seize the advantage from any space they can find. The US unit also has pace and skill and is intelligently lead by Chris Wyles. Scotland’s own kick and chase game will need to be very effective to prevent easy ground being made and keeping the ball in hand for more phases than they did against Japan may prove beneficial.

Success on the gain line

USA were more consistent than Scotland at getting themselves on the front foot – 40 out of 100 carries across the gainline compared to 35 out of 100 for Scotland. The Samoan defence was not nearly as organised as the Japanese units though and the dark blues will be looking to get their big ball carriers into the game early on with the intention of creating space for the outside backs. For the US their primary impetus comes from Samu Manoa and new Warrior Greg Peterson. Expect Manoa to be stationed further out to take on the backs and Peterson to have primary responsibility for tight carrying – where the Americans were a little weak in protecting the ball in their opening fixture.

Lineout

USA’s lineout did not function particularly well in their opener with with the men from Samoa almost entirely untroubled on their own throw-in and able to disrupt an American set piece that was severely hampered by some terrible throwing-in. With king of the lineout operators, Richie Gray, in place Scotland will be looking for clean possession on their own ball and making a mess of as many US throws as possible. With no Denton or Wilson the 3rd jumper role should fall to Strokosch, which is a slight step down, but this should still be an area that Scotland can take advantage.

Overall

The so-called minnows in this RWC have already shown that they have closed the physical gap on the top-tier nations. With extended camps fitness is an easy thing for these sides to quantify and target improvements. What is more difficult is developing the skills and decision-making under pressure – it is here that nations who play more test rugby at a more intense level on a regular basis continue to have the advantage. While the Scotland XV is not that experienced all those involved can fall back on top level games played for their clubs in recent years. Scotland will look to ‘win’ the penalty count, force more turnovers from the Americans than they themselves concede and edge the set piece battle. These will be the foundation stones if there is to be a Scottish victory.

Officials
This will be the fourth time that Chris Pollock has refereed Scotland with the previous matches resulting in one win and two defeats for the men in blue. The penalty count has only been in their favour on one occasion in these matches and there has only been one yellow card (against Scotland). For more stats on Mr. Pollock visit Great Call Rugby who have some excellent analysis on the officials at the current tournament.

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